Hair Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata

Alopecia is a medical term for hair loss which sometimes results in total baldness. There is more than one type of alopecia; androgenetic alopecia is the most well known version, but they all have one thing in common bald patches on the scalp and a drop in self confidence and esteem.

What does alopecia areata mean?

This form of alopecia refers to irregularly shaped bald patches commonly seen on the scalp of the sufferer. These bald patches vary from small through to large.

But alopecia areata is also a skin disorder, caused by a problem with the immune system which results in patchy hair loss on the scalp and in some cases, the body.

Some alopecia areata sufferers experience a complete loss of hair on the scalp and the body.

Total hair loss on the scalp is known as 'alopecia totalis'.

A complete loss of body hair is known as 'alopecia universalis'.

Who is most affected by alopecia areata?

This usually develops in young adults although it can affect people of all ages. Children and teenagers can also develop alopecia areata.

Hair is lost within a short period of time, leaving a bald patch which may be sore, itchy or cause a tingling feeling.

Difference between alopecia areata and other hair loss conditions

This condition is characterised by bald patches on the scalp which occur at intervals. Now compare this to telogen effluvium in which the sufferer experiences thinning hair but no bald patches.

Alopecia areata is caused by an autoimmune disease, e.g. arthritis: other hair loss conditions such as scarring alopecia occur as a result of complications from another medical complaint.

What happens is that the body's immune system turns upon the hair follicles, causing them to shut down and prevent the growth of new hair. This results in a loss of hair from a particular area of the scalp which is not renewed hence the bald patch.

Causes of alopecia areata

A faulty immune system is the most common cause of this condition but there are others which include:

  • Side effect of medications
  • Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid)
  • Contraception, e.g. birth control pills
  • Pregnancy

Alopecia areata often runs in families which suggest a genetic link. This also applies to people whose family contains a close relative with an autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Diagnose alopecia areata

If you notice bald patches on your scalp then visit your GP.

This condition is diagnosed by careful inspection of the bald patches. These are a common feature of this condition and vary in size and shape. You will also be asked about your medical history and if anyone else in your family is suffering from the same condition.

Do not forget to mention if you are taking any prescription medication or have a family history of autoimmune diseases, e.g. arthritis.

Your GP may send you for blood tests and other investigative procedures in order to determine the cause. This is especially the case if there is a suspected autoimmune disease.

Treatment for alopecia areata

In some cases the bald patches regrow if left untreated but it is an upsetting condition to have to put up with. If blood tests have uncovered an underlying medical condition then this will be treated.

Other options include hair loss drugs, steroid injections, topical steroids and immunotherapy.

A hair transplant is another possibility but you need to discuss this with a reputable clinic and surgeon.